Kristi Stassinopoulou

LIRA Mag, Sweden

First of all, could you tell me about how you first started to work together musically and how you came to develop the sound you have on Greekadelia?

STATHIS: We have to go back in…1989 …

KRISTI: In that legendary rock club called AN in the area of Exarhia in Athens…

STATHIS: …Together with two other musicians we created a garage-punk-rembetiko-traditional band. We played like that for around two years. The Greek-rock audience and critics were shocked by our sound, we had a small but “fanatic” audience, we played in some of the most underground Greek clubs and festivals of that time, but nobody dared to release our recordings. Our ideology was -and still is- that something very important was lost in modern Greek music. That feeling that we were getting when listening to old recordings was not there anymore. Overproduced, too “clean”, too “sterilized” sounds coming out of modern equipment and studios, modern arrangements and the feeling that the only think that was different in this huge “Vangelis”- want-to-be sound, was just the voice of the singer. Since the time we met with Kristi until now we have created dozens of bands, played in hundreds of clubs and festivals in Greece and abroad and made 5 CDs with international appeal. This international appeal was something that really took us by surprise. It was the last think we ever expected, especially because we were always singing in Greek. The Greekadelia sound came out the last two years, by just the two of us playing, while waiting for hours for the band members to appear in our rehearsals! When we were invited to participate in the anniversary concert for the 30 years of Folk Roots magazine in London, we went there for the first time as a duet. It was one of those rare “magic” moments and since then we go on like this. In the Greekadelia recordings we had a “less is more” ideology. We recorded the CD playing together and working with a 21st century computer, but instead of using the hundreds of channels available, we wanted to use it like as if we had an 8 track channel studio of the 60s-70s.

KRISTI: This is our first album with just the two of us as playing as a duet. Using the live looping technique Stathis is creating this psychedelic but with a traditional texture “wall of sound”. Greekadelia is also our first album that does not include songs written by us, but only arrangements of traditional folk songs from all the different rural areas of Greece.

How did you come up with the name of the album? What does it mean to you?

KRISTI : The name of the album was taken from that phrase that Ian Anderson of fRoots magazine had written to describe our previous album “Taxidoscopio”, “Traveling tales from the greekadelic queen”, he had written. We very much liked the term greekadelic so out of it came the word Greekadelia, very well describing what we feel our music is all about: focusing on the psychedelic, the trance element of our musical folk tradition.

The album starts with the sound of a boat and the voice of a captain. What role does the fact that Greece is a nation of Islands play in how its music sounds? Does the music of the mainland differ much from the one from the far away islands? Could you tell me a bit about the background of that song (“Matia san kai ta dika sou”)?

KRISTI: These are the harsh, distorted voices of the captain, coming out from the damaged speakers of these old-type ferry boats, announcing the name of each port and giving directions to the sailors. While sleeping in our warm sleeping bags on the decks of such old boats, Stathis would wake up in each and every port, turn on his small tape-recorder and record these announcements. I feel happy that we somehow have saved them, by adding them to the background of this song. Because nowadays they have all been replaced by pre-recorded, gentle, female voices speaking very correct English, like the ones you can hear in all airports, train stations etc, all over the world.

STATHIS: Greece is a small country full of islands and big mountains. This nature makes contact difficult sometimes and big differences exist between areas of the same country. Until even 30 years ago it was really very difficult to travel from one village or one island to the other. Electricity, telephone and roads were often a luxury and there were areas of Greece which gave you the feeling that you were in the Neolithic era. This has led to the creation of completely different traditional music styles: music of the islands and Crete, music of Roumeli, music of Epirus and music of Macedonia-Thrace. And also, Greeks that were living for thousands of years in Asia Minor, in the Black sea, in Egypt, etc. came back to Greece as refugees during the big ethnic cleansing in the beginning of the 20th century, and brought their own traditions and music like Pontiaka, Smyrneika etc. What is common in all of Greek traditional music is the use of Byzantine (east roman empire) music scales.

KRISTI :The songs of the islands differ from the mainland songs of Greece in that their music is based mainly on scales that include halftones and sound more eastern, more “oriental”. The mainland songs, are based on more, let’s call them, western, pentatonic scales, in which halftones are not used and therefore end up sounding harsher. Island music is also lighter in terms of rhythm. Because island dances were born nearby the sea, they have to do with the movement of the waves and of the wind. Whereas the rhythms and dances of the mainland of Greece have to do with the heavy vibrations of the earth, the mountains, the large trees etc.

The whole album is like a musical island hopping – what part of Greece do you yourselves originate from, and how do you think the place you grew up in has influenced you in your music?

KRISTI: We both grew up in the center of Athens. My family was religious so my first hearings as a child among others were also the Byzantine hymns of the Greek Orthodox church. As a child I often had the chance to be unconsciously listening to… world music, before this term even existed. Because of that hand-made radio receiver that my elder brother, a university professor of electronics nowadays, kept scratching all through the summer nights in our children’s room on the top roof of my father’s hotel in Kalamata in the south of Peloponnesus. Right in front of the Messinean bay facing the Mediterranean sea, radio-waves were easily transformed and we would often listen to the voice of Oum Kalthoum, the music of the Jajoukas, of Balkan female choirs, of Turkish classical orchestras, without yet knowing these names, or even which side of the world all these sounds were coming from. That was of course the pre-internet era, when music from around the world was not easily accessible and all those hearings sounded more magical to our ears than nowadays. The soundtrack of those Kalamata summer nights did very much influence my taste and my curiosity about different existing types of music. Then there came the hippy era,with all those colorful tourists dropping by our hotel in Kalamata on their way to the southern Mani peninsula. I very much liked their “scratchy rock n roll guitars”… and their free manners. So I started to try to find and listen to all those legendary psychedelic rock albums of the era, which very much influenced my tastes in music and in life.

STATHIS: I grew up in the neighborhood of Plaka. Plaka, because of Acropolis, was and still is the first place to be visited by all people coming in Athens from Greece and from abroad. Until the early 80s this was a place full off all kinds of music and I was always really enjoying the accidental mixture of bouzoukis, electric guitars, Greek folk clarinets etc that were played simultaneously in different clubs and their sounds were coming through my window.

You’ve made your interpretations of old demotika songs – is that a musical tradition that is alive and well or how is its status in today’s Greece? Have you come across any critisism from ”purists” who want the old songs to sound the same as always?

STATHIS: The demotika music scene is an active scene in Greece. It is completely ignored by big record companies, TV channels and radios of the big cities. But if you visit those rural areas where they come from, there is always a panygiri (fiesta) nearby and hundreds of people of all generations dancing for hours with that music. What surprised me was that all the elder traditional players who hear us playing this music in our own way are always coming to tell us how much they like and enjoy it. Strictly speaking, we are not traditional folk musicians. You have to be born in a place to be able to have “that” magic thing, the shape of the mountains, or of the seagulls flying above the sea, coming out of your playing. Unfortunately it is impossible for me to do this, so I presume that there may be a criticism from “purists”.

KRISTI: Music and the way music is played, will always be developing and changing with time. And no one can really say that what we nowadays call traditional sound, was sounding the same when played centuries ago, especially before the recording technique was invented. Many new instruments, like for example the clarinet, the violin, etc, intruded in our traditional music the very last centuries. Tradition is and should be something alive. What moves me very much, is when often, simple, elder, village people come from within the audience and tell us how they like the fact that we are playing “their” old and sometimes forgotten songs and how they like the fact that we are making them sound interesting also to the younger generations living in the cities, who has grown up with different kinds of music, mainly Greek pop music and western music.

What’s your main ambition with this album?

KRISTI : First of all to transform the moving feeling we get ourselves when playing these songs. And further on, to turn listeners’ attention to this kind of music and make them also listen to the original versions, as well as to the old masters playing and singing these songs.

STATHIS: To have listeners “travel” with it, like we do, as well as still enjoy it when listening to it after years.

Kristi plays Indian harmonium and Stahis plays the lauto – could you both please tell me how you got started with those instruments and what they mean to you?

STATHIS: I started playing the laouto because I like the combination of percussion and string instrument sound that it has. It is also the common instrument in almost all Greek traditional music, something like the guitar in western music.

KRISTI: The Indian harmonium on the other hand has nothing to do with Greek traditional music. But we liked the way its breathing drone embraces the sound of the lute. Accordions are used in folk music in the North of Greece. Electric keyboards were also often used in panigiria, the local fiestas, in the 60s and 70s. They were considered very kitsch, and this sound was very much looked down upon. But there are some very important, elder panigiria players of the older hammonds and farfisa keyboards, who have created their own, unique way of playing, imitating the sound of the Greek folk clarinet. I am trying to learn from them, I am somehow imitating their way when I play my harmonium. How I got it? Alen Ginsberg was reading his poetry accompanying himself with the drone of a small, portable Indian harmonium. Also Nico, the legendary rock singer and personality of my once very much beloved band, the Velvet Underground, was playing it in her later years. Then of course I also very much liked how it is played by Pakistani masters, like the Sabri Brothers, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, etc. I very much wanted to find and buy a nicely sounding portable Indian harmonium, which I managed to in one of our India trips. I am not an expert instrumentalist my self and I am playing it in a very simple way. But I feel this instrument breathing together with me when I sing and I very much like this resonance feeling.

Right now you are number 1 on Wold Music Charts Europe. What does that mean to you?

STATHIS: Charts were something that I was never paying any attention to. The music that I am listening to is rarely in any charts. But the news that we are in no1 made me feel really happy and honored and gave me a strong courage to continue, especially in those difficult times here.

KRISTI: It makes us feel happy, honored and kind of proud to be able to send a positive message from our country that is suffering these days.

Obviously for a long time now we are used to hear news about the economical situation in Greece. How does that affect you as musicians, and how do you view the future of your country?

STATHIS: The economic situation of the last years was something that we were expecting to happen, but not in such a huge scale. The last two years we pay taxes that almost exceed our income, we feel that we are getting officially robbed by the Greek state and, hoping that we or our family will not have any serious health problems, we may soon start to face serious every-day problems, if this goes on like this. Most of our friends are unemployed, at the age of 45-55 which means that nobody will ever ask them to work again. People are desperate. Greece is a Balkan country, close to North Africa and The Middle East, this is an explosive combination. On the other hand this crisis has already been a chance for a big change in the Greek state system and thinking. Because in Greece you have this combination of European, Balkan, African and Asian mentality, a peculiarity that can be a useful tool of knowledge for real contact in many areas between eastern and western Europe, Israel, Turkey, the Arabic world as well as the north of Africa. This is already happening in music.

KRISTI: Greece is situated in the crossroads between the three large continents, Europe, Asia and Africa. We Greeks have elements from all these areas in our character, in our culture and in our music. This is one of our problems in terms of identity. But this is also one of our great virtues.

You have sometimes been compared to the Swedish group Hedningarna. Do you feel related to their work musically, and what do you think about them?

STATHIS: I m happy that we have been compared to Hedningarna because I didn’t know anything about them and this is how I discovered their amazing music. I have this feeling that they also belong to “my generation”, grown up with this unity feeling of the rock music of 60s-70s, rediscovering with the same feeling their traditional music, played by old, local people in small villages, in places full of people, dancing, remaining alive without the need of promotion, video clip, interviews etc.

KRISTI : It is very interesting and it is very moving to find artists on the other side of the world that have received similar seeds of ideas, of tastes, of creativity and are following similar routes.

Could you mention other artists/groups that have inspired you or that you just enjoy listening to?

STATHIS: In the 60s, my uncle listening to and dancing the zeibekiko, in 70s another uncle dancing Pontiaka, in 80s Parvas playing laouto in his café in Chora of Amorgos. And among all these, rock music, punk and later Sufi music, Indian music, music from Africa, a never ending list.,a very small piece of the music of this planet.

KRISTI : The recent years I very much enjoy listening to the old masters of demotika songs, Byzantine chanting and music from India. The sounds that I grew up with and was influenced by are similar to those Stathis mentioned. Rock music, especially of the psychedelic groups, was what influenced my life and ideology during my youth. My teenage beloved singers and personalities were Grace Slick, Nico, Patti Smith and Kate Bush a bit later. Nowadays I prefer listening to Indian singers like Kishori Amonkar, Greek traditional singers, like our late Domna Samiou, the island singer Anna Karambesini, old rembetiko ladies, like Marika Papangika and Roza Eskenazy.

Unfortunately I don’t understand Greek so all I know about the lyrics is what I’ve been able to read in English, but generally the album sounds dramatic and at time melancholic and full of sadness. How does this correspond to life in Greece 2012? ”Anamesa nissirou”, for example I understand is about a ship in dangerous waters, with the crew praying for help. Do you in any way have the current situation of your country in mind when you play that song?

KRISTI : Well… in that song it’s the crew of the sinking boat praying for help and promising to offer in return … silver candles to the saint who will save them… A centuries old traditional song… But the reason we chose to add it in our album is just that it’s a very beautiful and moving song, and that I very much enjoy singing its unfolding melody.

STATHIS: Another example is “Me Gelasan Ta Poulia”, “The birds they cheated me”. It reminds me of the time between 2000-2007 when all us Greeks had every day telephones and letters from the banks begging us to take loans for a new car, a new house, vacations, Christmas gifts etc.

Lately I’ve been listening to old, bluesy rembetika music from this box: Do you have any relation to that music?

KRISTI : Rembetika is urban folk music. They call them the Greek blues and they are very much well known and popular both in Greece and abroad. The Greek folk songs that were born and are still alive in the rural areas of Greece are the demotika. These two kinds of Greek folk music have few differences in the instruments used, different attitude and different ethics behind them, but have the same roots in terms of musical scales and rhythms.

STATHIS: Rembetika is one of my favorite styles of music. My grandmother and grandfather were deported from Minor Asia during the1922 Asia Minor disaster, like many of the rembetes. My grand father used to sing amanedes in family gatherings. My uncle was telling me that when I was a small child he had given me a baglama as a present and that I was playing with it, something I don’t recall. But rembetika were supposed to be “bad” music, because of the hash lyrics, and the word rembetis was an insult. I rediscovered rembetika in the beginning of the 80s, it was the time of the renaissance of the rembetika music and the creation of a new rembetika scene in Greece.

What are your plans for the future like? Touring, making new music? Any plans of coming to Sweden?

KRISTI : We would very much like to come in Sweden, especially after this long, hot summer that we have had here this year. We have never toured or visited any of the Scandinavian countries. And for me, the fact that Scandinavia is so much way up North, with such a different climate than ours and with these very long days and nights, makes it kind of mythical to my mind. We don’t have any specific plans for the future, but planned or not planned, we in any case keep on making new music, because this is what we like doing.

STATHIS: We are making music all the time together with Kristi, we have many ideas and new songs.

Olof Peronius